Update: The Universe and the Volcano

By Phil Plait | August 10, 2006 11:51 am

I have some follow-up info on a couple of posts from a few days ago:

About the new finding calling into question the size and age of the Universe, my friend (and very smart fellow) Ned Wright, who is a cosmologist, has posted a rebuttal to both the science and the reporting of this issue. Basically, journalists made far more out of this than it’s worth by reporting it uncritically. I agree; most of the articles I read made it seem like this was a huge blow to our current understanding of the size and age of the Universe. I tried in my article to say that this result was interesting, but it needed to be investigated further because of the fact that it disagrees with so many other well-established studies.

Ned’s site is pretty cool, though fair warning– a lot of it is technical.

Update to the update (August 11, 2006): Bad reader (but good astronomer) Doug McElroy pointed out to me that the OSU team’s paper does not really call into question Hubble’s constant. What they are questioning is the study that determines the distance to the galaxy M33 using a kind of star called a Cepheid variable. Since they get a different distance to the galaxy, they say the Cepheid study may be missing some important factors. In other words, if you use the distance value of the new study, and apply it to the study using the Cepheids, then you get a value of Hubble’s constant that is way too low. Therefore, the Cepheid study is missing something (and that’s important because we use Cepheids in more distant galaxies to get their distances). I might buy that, but again only if more data is obtained using eclipsing binaries. One system is just too small a sample.

About the volcano that experts said might erupt due to tides from the Moon, well, it didn’t blow last night when the Moon was full. And there’s no word of an eruption yet, though the BBC is reporting — with no sense of irony at all — that the volcano is "ominously quiet". That can be scary: volcanoes are like pressure cookers, and small eruptions are good because they literally let off steam. An active volcano that suddenly quiets down may be building up pressure for a massive eruption. But if the full Moon’s tides were affecting the volcano, I would expect there to be plenty of activity. Instead, we get the exact opposite effect.

In the comments in my previous blog entry, it was pointed out that one of the experts quoted about the Moon was Renato Solidum. I was able to find a link with quotations from him on the Spiegel website, but my German is rusty (I should spray him with WD40). I distrust online translators, so if anyone wants to practice their translational skills, be my guest in the comments here!


Comments (8)

  1. Marlayna

    Well from what I read the only thing Solidum says about the moon is that it could affect the volcano activity. Then Ernesto Corpuz says it’s like the moon would trigger the volcano. Further down, Solidum says that since there seems to be something blocking the magma flow, this could raise the possibility of a dangerous explosion.

  2. Jan Exner

    He does not say trigger, he says “it’s as if the moon massages the volcano”.

  3. (hearts)

    Damn – too late! ūüėÄ

    Additionally ( just to show off, translating from my mother tongue to english ) Mr. Corpuz claims that at least 3 of the almost 50 eruptions within the last 4 centuries have been in tune with a full-moon phase, just like the two latest eruptions in 2000 and 2001.

    According to Mr. Solidum there are indicators for an explosive eruption of the Mayon. The current amounts of Sulfur-Dioxide blown out by the volcano indicates that gas-containing magma is ‘climbing’ upwards inside the mountain. Then the gas ‘production’ decreased from more than 12.000 tons to about 7.800 tons a day, which means that something, as Marlayna said, is blocking the magma flow – which, as a consequence, does increase the risk of a dangerous, explosvice eruption.

    I hope I was able to add something valueable, rather than just complaining about some people translating the iconized internet speak into proper written english .. ūüėČ


  4. Laguna2

    To add a little more..
    Ernesto Corpuz says “It is like the moon gives the volcano a massage”.

    Nice analogy. I can almost hear the mayon: “A little to the left, no further up, yeah, there, exacly, that feels soooooo goood”. :-)

  5. George Atkinson

    Um, I don’t think moon phase has anything to do with tidal effects.

  6. jackd

    Mr. Corpuz claims that at least 3 of the almost 50 eruptions within the last 4 centuries have been in tune with a full-moon phase, just like the two latest eruptions in 2000 and 2001

    But if a full moon lasts one day out of every 28, and eruptions happen at random with respect to the phase of the moon, then out of 50 eruptions you would expect to get a few on the full moon just by chance.

  7. Kevin Conod

    >Um, I don√Ę‚ā¨‚ĄĘt think moon phase has anything to do with tidal effects.

    You don’t get out much do you?

  8. Nigel Depledge

    Kevin, I think George was trying to point out that we have tides at all phases of the moon.

    However, George, at the full and new moons, because the Earth, moon and sun line up, the tidal effects of the sun and the moon are cumulative, whereas during a waxing and waning moon the respective tidal effects of the moon and the sun tend to cancel one another to some extent.


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